At the grocery store, I spend a lot of time reading labels to check for allergens. Food labels in Swiss grocery stores generally appear in three languages: German, French and Italian (and sometimes more). Just like in the United States, I look for allergens listed among a product’s ingredients, but I also try to spot any additional warnings like, “could potentially contain traces of…”
One store in particular has the best allergy labeling I’ve seen, both in Switzerland and the United States. Coop’s store brand products have very clearly marked allergen labels (see photos below). With these helpful green labels—especially when I’m trying to read in French—I can easily determine if a product is safe for my son. It makes my shopping trip so much easier!
It surprised me to see allergy labels calling out “sulfites” as a potential allergen, so I decided to look into Swiss requirements for food labels. Here’s some information on these requirements in Switzerland and the United States. From my quick review, it seems like Switzerland has more comprehensive policies.
Federal requirements for clearly labeling potential allergens on food products
|Potential allergens||Switzerland||United States|
|Crustacean shellfish (i.e., crab, lobster, and shrimp)||X||X|
|Gluten (i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt)||X|
|Mollusks (i.e., oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops)||X|
|Sulphur dioxide or sulphites||X|
Sources: Verordnung des EDI vom 23. November 2005 über die Kennzeichnung und Anpreisung von Lebensmitteln, see Article 8 and Annex 1; and Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, (P.L. 108-282).
In Switzerland, federal law also requires food labels to list any of the above allergens that could be inadvertently added, if the amounts exceed certain limits (see Article 8 for more information). For example, if a food product has unintended contamination with peanuts or other tree nuts greater than 1 gram per kilogram, then the label should declare it. Any known contamination below these limits can voluntarily be included on food labels (see Article 8, paragraph 5 or Swiss Labeling). If you have questions about food labels in Switzerland, contact the aha! Swiss Allergy Centre.
In the United States, manufacturers can voluntarily include warnings such as, “may contain traces of soy” or “may be prepared in a facility that also uses nuts,” but they are not required. For more information about these requirements, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has published Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States (May 2011). In addition, the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation has an FAQ page specifically about this law.
Another Bundt Cake Experiment
With National Bundt Day quickly approaching, I found another interesting allergy-friendly bundt recipe to try: Beet Bundt Cake. It calls for non-dairy semisweet chocolate chips, which I haven’t been able to find yet. Instead, I used Coop’s cocoa powder (no allergy label, so I feel safe using it), and it made for an interesting cake. I didn’t puree the beets enough because I was afraid of upsetting my Swiss neighbors early on a Saturday morning, so the cake had more texture than necessary. So, I’ll try making it again. Next time, I can hopefully track down some allergy-friendly chocolate chips and do my blending on a weekday afternoon!
Food labels: Is there a particular brand or store that does allergy labels really well? Please leave a comment below or send an email and photo, if possible, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bundt cakes: Also, we’re always happy to get your allergy-friendly bundt cake recommendations, so please send them our way. Thanks!
Updated: May 10, 2014.